It's fair to say that April 2019 was a month that will go down in female boxing as a big one. We had a card in Japan, on the 14th, that was an all-female card and, of course, we had "the biggest women's boxing match in history", when Christina Hammer and Claressa Shields threw down on Showtime. We're also set to see Kasumi Saeki battle for a world title in just her 4th bout, on April 28th.
Saeki isn't the only notable fighter on the April 28th card, with former 3-time world champion Etsuko Tada (18-3-2, 5), a stablemate of Saeki's, takes on former Saeki opponent Kanyarat Yoohanngoh (5-2, 3), in a WBC Minimumweight world title eliminator. A win for the Japanese veteran sets her up with a chance to become a grandslam champion, whilst a win for Kanyarat sets her up for a huge year.
At 37 years old, and with her 38th birthday coming next month, Tada will know that time on her long career is running out. She debuted almost 11 years ago and has had a genuinely notable career. She would claim her first world title in her 5th bout, beating ChoRong Son for the WBA Minimumweight title and would twice fight to draws in unification bouts. The first of those was a draw with the then WBC champion Naomi Togashi before then fighting to a draw with the then "interim" WIBA champion Ria Rammarine. To 2013 they were the only marks on her record, which she notched notable wins over Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki.
Sadly a couple of split decision losses to Anabel Ortiz saw Tada losing the WBA title, though she would bounce back by winning the IBF title, which she lost in her first defense to Cai Zong Ju. She would later claim the WBO title in 2018, though vacated without making a defense to pursue her dream of a grandslam.
Although older and slower than she once was Tada is still an aggressive, tough, hard hitting fighter. In a small ring, or at least one that's smaller than she fought Cai Zong Ju in, she is a nightmare. The larger the ring the more she will struggle, but this bout isn't expected to be in a big ring.
The 20 year old Thai is a bit of an unknown, unless you are a hardcore fan of as female boxing in Asia. She made her professional debut at the ridiculously young age of 15, yes you did read that right 15, and took a break after her debut. Since then she's had mixed results, losing on the road, to Zhezhe Ni in China and to the prodigious Kasumi Saeki in Japan, but did score a huge win last time out, stopping Umi Ishikawa this past February. That win was, by far and away, the best of Kanyarat's career, and is a huge boost fert her coming into this bout.
We've seen the Thai look confused and lost, showing no answers to Saeki's speed and skills last July, but with 3 wins in a row she does have confidence. She's proven that she's aggressive, a physical fighter and doesn't mind bending the rules, something she did regularly against Ishikawa. Sadly for her Tada has sene it all before and there will have to be more than a few dirty tricks to pick up a win here.
We suspect Kanyarat will become a fixture on the regional scene in the years to come, however we can't see her having the tools or experience to deal with Tada. The Thai does have some momentum coming into this bout, but we expect to see that being destroyed early before Tada breaks her down and scores a mid-round stoppage.
Prediction - TKO4 Tada
On April 28th we'll see Japan's Kasumi Saeki (3-0, 2) look to announce herself on the world stage, as she takes on once beaten Mexican Elizabeth Lopez (6-1-4, 1) in a bout for the WBO female Minimumweight title, a title vacated by stablemate Etsuko Tada. For Saeki this is a chance to win a world title in just her 4th bout, whilst also looking to prove she is more than just a talented prospect. For Lopez the bout will be her first outside of Latin America, and also her first for a major title.
The 22 year old Saeki is a novice professional. She only turned professional in 2018, making her debut on May 27th 2018, though had had a solid amateur background with a 35-9 record including bouts on both the national and international stage. That amateur background showed on her debut as she showed flashes of genius in a 6 round decision win over Floryvic Montero on debut. Following up her debut Saeki would score a stoppage win over Kanyarat Yoohanngoh, who would subsequently win the OPBF silver female title, and then stop Wassana Kamdee, to become the WBO Asia Pacific champion.
Saeki is a real natural talent. She is one of the purest female boxers out there, with exceptional skills, lightning speed, alarming accuracy and amazing ring IQ. even this early in her career she looks to be a special fighter, not just a special prospect. She looks to have all the tools to go a very long way, has already shown she can do 6 rounds. Given the fact she's in the Shinsei gym will have really helped her develop her skills and it's clear that she will have been working alongside Etsuko Tada to prepare for this bout.
With 11 bouts to her name the 4'9" Lopez has one of the sports oddest looking records, with 4 draws from her 11 contests. The 26 year old, who made her debut in March 2015, would strangely begin her career 2-1-3, with her loss coming to the under-rated Yesenia Gomez who has since become the WBC female Light Flyweight champion. As well as those 3 early draws Lopez actually drew last time out, fighting to a 6 round draw with Kumora Yang Badillo.
Footage of Lopez is hard to find, though what is available makes her look quite slow and clumsy. She's wild and rough around the edges, but does seem tough and marches forward. She has an aggressive style, but it is a very agricultural style and she does seem wild and reckless at times. Despite being aggressive she has only scored 1 stoppage win in 11 bouts, showing a lack of power and it seems like that will cause her bouts to go longer than she would like.
From the footage available of both it seems hard to see anything but a win for Saeki. She has too much skill, too much speed and too much polish for someone as sloppy as Lopez. Lopez will come to fight, but we expect to see her wide shots beign countered time and time again as Saeki goes on to take a wide, and clear decision. The only worry about Saeki is whether her lack of professional experience will be exposed, though with her training at the Shinsei gym we don't imagine that will actually be a problem here.
True must win bouts are rare in boxing, but on April 14th we get a real must win, as former WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (17-6-1, 8) [黒木優子] takes on former WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (18-5-3, 5) [森脇恵子], with neither able to afford another loss if they are to remain relevant.
At 49 years old Ikeyama has been a testament to looking after yourself, hard work, dedication and doing everything a fighter can to prolong their career. She has however began to lose the battle to father time. Since the started of 2016 she has gone 1-2-2, with her sole win coming due to an horrific knee injury suffered by Ayaka Miyao, who would avenge the loss last year. She would lose the WBO Atomweight title to Mika Iwakawa last year and has shown signs of slow down, something that one would have expected to see from her much earlier in her career.
Ikeyama has been a bit of a low key legend of female boxing, beginning her career in 2003 but making a real name for herself in her 40's. She has been competing with world class opponents long after most fighters are retired. Even in her advanced age she hasn't been backing away from stiff competition, twice facing Miyao and twice fighting Saemi Hanagata in recent years. She has always been a busy fighter, her stamina is incredible even compared to younger women, but her lack of power has been an issue and she has certainly slowed down over the last few years.
Kuroki is the much younger fighter, at the age of 27, but she is also in the need of a notable win after losses to Momo Koseki and Saemi Hanagata in her last 3 bouts. At one point she was seen as one of the top female Minimumweights, with solid wins over the likes of Mari Ando, Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco. Those wins however look to be in the rear view mirror and her last win of note was a second bout with Ando at the end of 2016. She's certainly not looking shot, or old, but there is a need for a win here if she's to remain in the mix, whilst Ikeyama likely needs a win to keep her career alive.
At her best Kuroki is a talent, quick fighter, with a high work rate, good technical skills and exciting style. She is fan friendly, and a strong fighter at 105lbs, without being a powerful puncher. She has faced a real who's who and since her debut in 2008 she has lost to top fighters like Koseki, Hanagata, Naoko Shibata and Etsuko Tada. She is clearly a fantastic fighter, but one who is possibly low on confidence and this could be the perfect time to fight her.
We love Ikeyama's late success, and her career story deserves a lot more attention than it has has. Here however we see her coming up short against a younger, fresh, hungrier fighter. Yes Ikeyama is fighting for her career, but Kuroki can't afford a loss either, and she is the naturally bigger, stronger fighter as well as the younger woman. We see this being exciting, action packed, and with a lot of leather being exchanged, but we also see a clear win for Kuroki over 10 rounds. Potentially leading to another world title bout for the fighter from Fukuoka.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.